The Hypocritic Oath

I must admit that reading Lessig's Free Culture has kept me awake many nights, tossing and turning and thinking of what I could possibly do to prevent our culture from falling into the "permission culture." If only I could write a novel as good as 1984 or direct a movie as good as Brazil. I must be content to rally as much support as I can in various online writing spaces, whether that be AA or Kairosnews.

I was thinking today of what I suppose is a rather small point about IP, but nevertheless could be raised--what of the Hippocratic Oath? This is the oath required in antiquity of all physicians, but lives on today (in modified form) in most medical school graduation ceremonies. Some of the language in the oath seems to directly conflict with modern practices of IP on medicine, particularly the patenting (and steep pricing) of medicines and genetic information:

Classic Hippocratic Oath:

I swear...To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to...regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art - if they desire to learn it - without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but no one else.

This sounds like a Creative Commons license!!

Now, the contemporary version:

I swear...I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow...Above all, I must not play at God.

The contemporary version removes all references to Greek gods and the obligation to live with your teacher in a life-long apprenticeship--good things, surely--but seems a lot less clear about how information is to be passed on to the next generation. When we think of the steep fees (only enforceable with IP laws) that prevent people in Africa dying of AIDS to receive treatment, even this "tamer" contemporary version seems to need revision. After all, the doctors who discovered, through expensive research and hardwork, the methods of treatment capable of significaly extending the life of those dying of AIDS, refuse to "share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow," namely African doctors, we start to see why so many doctors today are right to refer to this oath as the "Hypocritic." Furthermore, the imperative "Not to play God" seems contradicted by any IP law. The Word these doctors and scientists would so love to call their own apparently belongs (and is) God, at least according to The Gospel of John.

It saddens me greatly to think about how much further medicine would be today if all doctors took this oath seriously.

I read about the Oath here at Nova Online.